An Interview with a SEWA member

For the SEWA Manager Ni School team’s first blog post, we’d like to feature one of the case studies that we did while visiting the Visavadi Community Learning and Business Resource Center (CLBRC) in Surendranagar. We’re posting the write up below, but would like to make two comments on the experience:

  1. Chandrika was the first member we met and upon listening to her story, it was easy to see that SEWA has had a profound impact on her life and her family’s well-being. More than the added income and skills SEWA has taught her, we were impressed by her deep sense of pride in her association with SEWA and the amount of confidence she displayed when talking with us and sharing her story. SEWA has transformed her.
  2. Chandrika’s daughter has benefitted from SEWA tremendously – not only from being an active member in the village and trainings, but is now able to attend college because her family has money to support her goals. We’d love the opportunity to talk to more of this younger generation of women who are growing up with SEWA in their villages.

Meeting Chandrikaben and viewing the Visavadi Center first hand was worth the 5+ hours of driving on crazy Indian roads to catch a glimpse at how SEWA is making a difference in the communities it serves.

Chandrika (Luher) Mukeshbhai, SEWA Member

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

SEWA’s approach has never been simple charity. Over the forty plus years that SEWA has been in existence, it focus on help women become self-sustainable through networks, trainings and an organizational structure that empowers women to earn a living, enhance their family’s well-being and to transform their community into a safe and productive environment.

For seventeen years, Chandrika (Luher) Mukeshbhai has benefitted from this model. Prior to her SEWA involvement, she stayed at home and took care of her family: her husband who is a blacksmith and her two children. Seventeen years ago, while staying with her in-laws, some sisters from the district association had arranged a meeting with a neighbor and invited her to attend. She didn’t have much interest in the meeting, but attended anyways. She even questioned the benefit for becoming a member while at the meeting. But then she thought, “It’s only 5 rupees, why not?”

At first, she would sneak away to attend meetings and she kept her membership a secret from her family. She felt that they would not understand, or at least would not approve.  When her husband discovered her secret, he was disappointed and annoyed: “We are married, Chandrika, you should be transparent with me.” They still were not happy that she was a member. But she remained involved. She became a member of a savings group, where each member saved 10 rupees per month. One day, she started having chest pains and not feeling well. Her savings group gave her the money (3,500 rupees) to go to the doctor’s office. It was at that point where her husband realized the value of her SEWA membership and he came around to accepting her involvement.

Over the years, Chandrika has been involved in many aspects of SEWA. She is a master trainer in the solar lanterns project; she helps recruit members and collect their dues; she is a RUDI-ben and helps list future prices; and she trains farmers to plan their harvests. From all of this, she has done trainings throughout  India and in Pakistan. She earns 2,500 rupees for being a write for future prices, and her commission from RUDI-ben sales is between 1,000 and 1,500 rupees per month. SEWA has given her family extra income to take care of their needs, including health care, education and providing them with a home. Her son is now in his 12th form of school and her daughter is in college studying computer science.  It has made her family a respected one within her community.

One of the interesting things to watch over the next decade is the transition of SEWA’s focus from the older generation to the younger generation. As the membership ages, SEWA will need to look for new ways to attract and recruit younger members. Chandrika’s daughter is one of these younger members and has taken several courses from SEWA, including a self-protection course, budgeting course and sanitary napkin production. Chandrika argues that all of this is important for the younger generation: even after marriage, women can still go out and make a living and be self-sustainable. Of all of these activities and trainings, her daughter has enjoyed the Participatory Appraisal meetings the most: this is when the village people representing different areas come together and create a microplan for five years. This allows them to get to know the needs of the village and how you envision your village to grow in the future. It helps members prioritize the needs of their villages while supplying important information to the government. The younger generation is hopeful for the impact SEWA can continue to make in their lives: in a recent meeting with this younger generation, Reemaben, Chairwoman of SEWA, asked them for their vision for SEWA: they want to see SEWA on  the moon. It is anecdotes like these that prove SEWA has inspired young girls to get involved and work toward improving their lives.

What else can SEWA provide to the community it serves? This is hard for Chandrika to say. “This is so difficult to answer. SEWA is focus on covering the needs of the village, so they cover everything.” If they are to focus on anything, Chandrika believes SEWA can continue to grow and provide livelihoods for the younger generation. They will receive better training than the older generation had. There is need for more training in garment stitching, and the centers need more machines. Some villages only offer school to girls until 8th form, so SEWA offers them a chance to earn a living and improve their lives. She quips that it is not hard to get members to join SEWA:  “Everyone has always joined.  SEWA has helped put roofs over harvester tents, helped provide villagers with subsidies from government schemes, assisted with getting toilets into the homes, built bathhouses for the villages: in other words, people are very happy.”  Prior to her involvement, only 20 women in the village were members. Now, her village of 2,500 people hosts over 450 members.

Chandrika appreciates the difference SEWA has made not only on her life, but her daughter’s life as well. Her daughter is now in college, thanks to the influence and training SEWA has had on her.  The trainings have been incredibly helpful to Chandrika: she is now able to earn more than 3,500 a month as a RUDI-ben and a master trainer for solar lantern. From this she was able to have her own home, which is truly an accomplishment. She loves the friends she has made from SEWA, not only in her own district but from all around India (and the world). Finally, it has provided her with confidence: people used to question her attending meetings (especially that she was wearing cotton as opposed to the synthetic materials that are more respected in the villages). Nobody knew her name. Now, everybody knows her name and they offer her rides to get places.

Chandrika mentioned that when she’d travel to other villages on behalf of SEWA, people would usually come and ask “What has SEWA come to give us.” She tells them: “It’s not here to give you anything. It’s here to improve your livelihoods.” She tells us that when she begins to tell her story, they perk up! Clearly, Chandrika’s experience exemplifies the old Chinese proverb.



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